What should a disciple look like? We know we’re all called to persevere, to continue in the word - all the important things Jesus said to his followers. But there seems to be one element that we ignore to our peril. In John 13, Jesus states in no uncertain terms what he’s looking for:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." John 13:34-35
Jesus is speaking to his disciples - this was not an open meeting. Opening his heart to his disciples(presumably the same 120 who were in the Upper Room on the Day of Pentecost) he addresses some very important issues - we cannot succeed as believers if we brush aside these instructions in chapters 13 to 17. He is calling us to consider what are the ingredients of genuine discipleship. These are very focused instructions - and seemingly the only way to find fulness of joy and fruitfulness.
He describes this as a “New Commandment” - to love “as I have loved you” - and he underlines it all by saying “by this!” He’s not saying we can add other things - he’s saying there is one mark to cause the purpose of God to be fulfilled in our lives. IF YOU HAVE LOVE FOR ONE ANOTHER! This cannot be taken lightly - otherwise we will not have a lasting effect on people - people won't know. In his “High Priestly Prayer” in John 17, he adds this:
“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. John 17:20-23
Now he’s adding the concept that the revelation of the Glory of God is also dependent on disciples loving one another. It’s interesting to note from Acts 2 that the coming of the Holy Spirit was preceded by this same issue - they were "all in one accord". This takes us beyond our individuality. Paul takes it further and applies the same test to the Christian life:
"If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
But love has often been relegated to the background of our thinking and the body of Christ is so divided. There are over 36,000 denominations in the world today - what’s the root of the word ‘denomination’? It’s linked to the word ‘denominator’ - that number at the bottom of a fraction that means you must divide the top number by the bottom one. Denominational thinking is based on the concept of division!
If we’re looking for a genuine revelation of the Kingdom of God - it can't be achieved without love. Jesus said this to just 120 of them. Some time later, on the day of Pentecost, Jesus released the Holy Spirit onto group who were in one accord. Later on, Paul said this:
"For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.” Galatians 5:6
The only thing that matters is faith that works by love. No other activity matters except faith working through love. Towards the end of the same chapter he said this:
"By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things."Galatians 5:22-23
The word is singular - FRUIT! I can't say that the manifestation of the Spirit in my life is joy! You cannot have peace if you don't have love. But in verse19 works of the flesh “are” (plural)! Our flesh can manifest enmity, idolatry and and impurity, but the Holy Spirit does not specialise in any one fruit - we can't be walking in the Holy Spirit and be impatient or violent. John obviously learned a very valuable lesson from Jesus and passed it on in his letters:
"Yet I am writing you a new commandment that is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says, “I am in the light,” while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates another believer is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness.” 1 John 2:8-11
Hatred, avoidance, criticism all ruin our discipleship - there’s nothing in between love and hatred. I can't say “I don't love him but don't hate him”.
"The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way: all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters.” 1 John 3:10
Let’s go back to John 13:34-35. This is not an exhortation but a command - I can't love and not keep commandments. Jesus said, “As I have loved you” - we don't have a choice. Love is my debt to others - no debt except the debt of love. I can't be walking in the Holy Spirit and disobey this command. Many are looking for genuine revival - this is a key. It’s so necessary for those who want to host a move of God - love creates a landing strip for the Holy Spirit to land on. AS - I have loved you - he gave us the pattern of how to love - it’s not about just loving those who does believe the same. John points to a very important issue:
“Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” John 13:1
Did Peter never offend Jesus? He even denied Jesus, but Jesus loved him to the end. Not, "I used to love that brother." His love never dies or changes. In Romans 5 Paul points us to the same issue:
"... and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” Romans 5:5-8
“As (in the same way that) I have loved you.”
There’s only one mark! One Commandment. What it takes to fulfil that command has already been provided - the love of God poured into our hearts.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book ‘Life Together’, makes some very poignant statements about love:
Christ Jesus stands between the lover and the others he loves. What love is - only Christ tells in his word. Contrary to all my own opinions and convictions Jesus Christ will tell me what love towards the brethren really is. Therefore spiritual love is bound solely to the Word of Jesus Christ. Where Christ binds me to maintain the fellowship for the sake of love I will maintain it. Where his truth enjoins me to resolve a fellowship for love's sake there I will resolve it. Because spiritual love does not desire but serves, it loves an enemy as a brother. It originates neither in the brother nor in the enemy, but in Christ and his word. (Life Together p35)
He goes on to explain that what he calls ‘human love’ can never understand ‘spiritual love’ because spiritual love is from above - it is something completely strange, new and incomprehensible to all earthly love. He says that human love is directed to the other person for his own's sake, spiritual love loves him for Christ's sake.
“Human love produces human subjection, dependence and constraint - spiritual love creates freedom of the brethren under the Word.” (Life Together p37)
He suggests that spiritual love creates the fruits that grow healthily in accord with God's good will in the rain and storm and sunshine of God's outdoors and that the existence of any Christian life together depends on whether it succeeds at the right time in bringing out the ability to distinguish between a human ideal and God’s reality, “between spiritual and human community.”
If we are longing for heaven to open up to us this is something to take very seriously. This kind of love is birthed out of the Spirit not just good deeds. It's out of a heart of compassion and kindness.